Wednesday Jan 19

Robert Clark Young The joy of community, within Connotation Press and between us and the writers we publish, is one of the great rewards of working on the magazine. And one of my favorite jobs at Connotation Press is to select the best creative nonfiction pieces of the year, for our August retrospective issue. Over the past twelve months, we’ve published some of the strongest writers in the genre. Let me tell you about them.

Erika Trafton’s “Independence Day” sketches a deathly metaphysic that will dazzle readers with its skillful play of our emotions. Yes, the material is strong, but a lesser writer would not have been able to evoke, dramatize, and assemble it in a way that has the magnificent impact of Trafton’s fine work.

I like stories about wayward parents. But you rarely, rarely see stories of this sort. That’s only one reason why it’s such a tremendous find to come across “Tag Sale” by JB McGeever. Messed-up parents with a son who’s struggling not to be messed-up? Here they are. The other reason why this is such a great find is, of course, the writing itself. In terms of accomplishment, this is no “youthful” author—the writing is that of a seasoned artist.

We might say the same for Silver Lining City” by Molly Mix. The story drags you through youthful despair without your feeling the despair of being dragged—you are, instead, in masterful narrative hands, and they can and will transport you on the force of voice and truth alone.

Twenty-seven years ago, I had my last drink. The last week that I was drunk, I wrote a story about my dog for my creative writing class at the University of California, Davis. The story ended with the dog being euthanized with a shot of sodium pentobarbital. Novelist James Crumley was guest-leading the workshop that week. He said, “They should have injected the author instead.” I’ve been a sucker for excellent dog stories ever since. Today I honor “Running Shadows by Jenna Opperman. Enjoy!

In the years before he drank himself to death, my friend Jim was arrested for drunk driving eight times. Two of those times, he wasn’t even in his car. Instead, he was parked on the median of the 101 in San Jose in the rush-hour afternoon, urinating into traffic. When I told him, “Look at the bright side—someday you can write a great story about your DUIs and jail,” he replied, “There are no great stories about DUIs and jail.” I wish Jim were still alive, so that he could read “Canebrake” by Ric Hoeben. For those the living—enjoy!

In April we welcomed back Jacqueline C. Kelley, whose story “Abe” is not about our sixteenth president, nor about Abe Vigoda, nor about any other Abe whom you are likely to recognize. In fact, it may take you a couple of paragraphs to figure out who exactly this Abe is. But once you do figure it out, you’ll want to stick with him. On the page, that is. Despite the best of his personal qualities, you might not want him in your house or car.

Probably the greatest pleasure in helping to edit this journal is the discovery of new talent. Rarely, one discovers a young writer who arrives with a voice that is fully mature. Such a voice belongs to Angela Sparandera. Her every sentence shimmers across the page as though her words were always meant to exist. The same can be said for the sweep of her narratives. This is the first time she’s published creative work. She is such a natural writer that she can write evocatively on any number of subjects. I offer you three of her best pieces: “I Am Good at Eating,” “My Old Job,” andLatin Music.” I have no doubt that Ms. Sparandera’s byline will be appearing on plenty of articles and stories and books in the years to come.  

Sometimes the lessons in reading are formal ones—that is, having to do with form. Since one of the elements that shapes form in literature is point of view, and since most personal narratives are told in the first person, I’m always intrigued by pieces of creative nonfiction that employ the third person. Why not? While The Itch, August 1978,"by Shauna Hambrick Jones is compelling for any number of reasons, the choice of point of view gives it an “outsider’s” perspective that accentuates the idiosyncracy of the subject matter.

Because I was born and raised in Southern California, I know little about having neighbors. Having neighbors is different from having people living next door to you. There’s a reason why serial killers can keep a single address for thirty years. It’s because they don’t really have neighbors. Fortunately, there are people like John Schulze who tells us in “Neighborly” what it means to be, well, neighborly. I wish he would move next door to me and start doing me some favors. I hope that I would be a better neighbor than the people he gets stuck with.

Finally, if you are a creative nonfiction writer yourself—or working in the closely allied genres of narrative nonfiction or memoir—please do submit your work to us, up to 10,000 words. Perhaps we will not only publish it, but also hail you as one of our best writers of the year in next year’s retrospective issue! Please submit your work directly to me at [email protected].